We already know that the strings of our electric guitar are a key part of achieving a good sound. So we must make sure that they are in good condition and tuned so that our instrument sounds the way we want it to sound. But when we think about the strings, this question arises: when to change electric guitar strings?
Changing strings due to breakage or excessive use
One approach to this issue would be to think about changing the strings on our electric guitar only when they break. But this issue is not so simple and somewhat more delicate than it may seem. Some musicians often cut strings, especially the finest ones who are the preferred victims of excessive stretching or violent performance. These guitarists are likely to change their strings more often.
But there is also the case of the careful musicians when the style of execution allows greater care of the strings. In these cases, the strings can reach a long life span. This is where the factor of string damage for an excessive lifetime comes in. These suffer small damages and stretching that generate a change of thickness, and with time it becomes impossible to tune them. A way of realizing when to change electric guitar strings is when they have a few weeks of use, and we notice that we cannot tune them as easily as when they were new and in perfect condition.
What to do when strings are rusty or discolored?
When we play on a set of strings for weeks, we are exposing these steel parts to several factors that affect their performance. First, we need to understand that the strings have a treatment for protection. This treatment that electric guitar strings have is affected by constant use, wear and tear, corrosion from oxygen in the air, and the humidity of our hands. The sweat of our hands is not a minor factor, it also generates corrosion in steel strings. Dirt, dust, and moisture in the air are also important factors in understanding why a steel-string suffers over time.
After weeks of constant use, it may seem that our guitar has problems to be tuned and that we should change the strings. The strings will stretch with daily use. In the first few weeks, we will be able to tune them without any problem, depending on our ability. But at some point, the strings will have stretched too much that they will lose their calibration. This means that they will lose the ideal thickness with which they come from the factory. This calibration is something a good electric guitar string must maintain to vibrate as it’s necessary so that it can sound so good as required.
What makes a good electric guitar string?
When Greg Orred, the international sales manager of the GHS Strings factory, was asked: What makes a good electric guitar string? He replied: “From a manufacturing point of view, you have to use good quality materials, you have to use decent machines to make the strings, and above all, you have to have the right people to see that the quality of the string is consistent across all the models. The critical moment is when the machine performs the twisting on the core of the string. If there’s even the slightest gap in the twist, the vibration and pitch won’t be right.”
The twisting has to be tight and consistent, and it has to be checked visually with a giant magnifying glass. That’s why it’s very important to have people who specialize in this point of string making and know what they’re looking for. Also, the factory must have adequate control of the ambient humidity, which is crucial when packing the string.
Greg said that when the factory brings out a new model of strings, they give it to the artists to try out, and they even test it in the factory. If the factory people are not satisfied, they do it again, and so on until they reach the desired result. That’s why GHS Strings has so many different strings, with different materials. Everything sounds different and feels different.
Regular strings vs. those with a corrosion treatment (coated vs. uncoated strings)
Regarding the differences between regular strings and those with an anti-corrosion treatment (coated vs. uncoated strings), Greg Orred of GHS Strings said: “There is a joke about this, that coated strings are dead as soon as they come out of the package. A regular string may have a brighter sound and feel more natural to the touch. But its sound will degrade faster than a string that has been treated with a corrosion inhibitor. We have the Coated Boomers for electric guitar and the Infinity Bronze for acoustic guitar, which has an exterior coating called MST that protects them from corrosion. At first, their sound and attack may not be as bright as that of a regular string, but their life span is extended over time much more.”
It all depends on what the musician is looking for, and also what he can afford. This process of corrosion treatment is more expensive to manufacture, so the string also increases in value. Some time ago, GHS changed its traditional packaging for a more modern and sealed one. Initially, there was a lot of concern about this because GHS had a very recognizable and distinctive packaging. Other companies have been using the foil package.
GHS is located in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts are made with similar packaging. But for them, the real breakthrough was the Nitro-Pack, which vacuum packs each string. They’re packaged with nitrogen, no oxygen! And the word oxygen goes with the word rust. Essentially, strings packed in this way would have to last forever. Greg finally add that: “I myself have had strings stored in my house for two years, and when I put them in, they look as if they were made yesterday.”
After reading this article, you can see that you must think of changing your electric guitar strings when you feel that they are sounding bad or experiencing problems to tune them. Deciding when to do it is not just a matter of time, but a matter of sound. So, when your electric guitar strings sound with no bright or are impossible to tune, it’s time to change them up.